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Volume 706: debated on Tuesday 9 December 2008


My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health (Alan Johnson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Smoking remains the single greatest cause of preventable death and is one of the primary causes of health inequality in the United Kingdom. The Government have an important responsibility to protect children and young people from smoking. We remain particularly concerned that in Great Britain, nearly seven in 10 adults who have ever smoked regularly say that they started smoking regularly before they were 18 years old.

Over the past decade, the Government have achieved a great deal in tobacco control. To build on this success in promoting public health, the Government have committed to develop a new national tobacco control strategy.

To guide the development of this new strategy, the department published the Consultation on the Future of Tobacco Control in May 2008 to enable stakeholders and the wider public to provide input from the earliest stages. Today we published a report summarising the more than 96,000 responses the department received. The report has been placed in the Library and copies are available to honourable Members from the Vote Office.

The Government now intend to bring forward primary legislation in two areas of tobacco control to protect children and young people from smoking.

We will bring to an end the practice of exposing children to the ubiquitous promotion of tobacco products in retail environments by removing the display of tobacco at the point of sale. According to Cancer Research UK, since the ban on advertising of tobacco introduced by the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002, display of tobacco in retail environments has become the primary source of tobacco marketing for young people. We believe that taking action on display of tobacco at the retail point of sale should not represent a significant financial burden on retailers.

We also plan further controls on the sale of tobacco from vending machines by seeking powers either to remove machines or require age restrictions to limit the easy access young people have to this source of tobacco. Vending machines are one of the most common and easily accessible sources of cigarettes for young people.

Before bringing legislation on point of sale display and tobacco vending machines into force, the Government will work closely with retailers and other stakeholders to develop regulations setting out detailed requirements. We will aim to ensure that requirements do not place unnecessary costs or burdens on the retail industry. We will also ensure ample lead-in time before any legislation is commenced to support businesses to prepare.

As part of their consultation, the Government also sought views on whether to bring forward innovative proposals on tobacco packaging. We believe that more needs to be done to develop our understanding of how the packaging of tobacco products influences smoking by both adults and young people. The Government will therefore keep tobacco packaging under close review.

The significant health risks associated with smoking are well documented. We believe that these proposals are an important, effective and proportionate step in protecting children and young people from the dangers of tobacco use.